Saturday, July 28, 2012

Central Park Zoo, Life Changes...and Zucchini

You will have to excuse my absence the past few weeks, this summer has gotten the best of me.

Unfortunately my blog has been the victim of an over-planned summer. My husband and I just commented this week about how active we have been--VBS, Y-camp, play-dates, boating with the grandparents, weekend trips to visit extended family and friends, trips to the playground, picnics, swimming at the community pool, CSA farm days, a day trip to Central Park zoo, and a summer vacation to the beach.

I also help my husband manage our business, but I didn't do such a good job planning for child care this summer. I'm cramming my work in between our activities and I'm not succeeding. Our home has also become the 'IT' place for the neighborhood kids recently. I love that they all want to play here, but someone has to keep an eye on five 4-6 year old girls.

Life of last week, a large project that my my husband and I have been working for 6 months has finally come to fruition. After renting an office space for 12 years, we bought a building last week. It needs a lot of cosmetic work on the inside and we are anticipating the grand opening to be the beginning of October.

On top of all of this, the Olympics have started and we are die-hard fans. 17 days of round-the-clock TV coverage. I don't know what I love more, the games or the stories of the athletes about their journey to the greatest competition on Earth.

So bear with me as I try to come up for air soon with more consistent posting.

In other news, check out my latest recipe over at The Happy Housewife--Zucchini Muffins. If you are swimming in zucchini right now, give these a try.

How's your summer going? I would love to hear all about it!

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Donating Household Clutter and Taking a Tax Deduction

Every year, I have a yard sale. It usually coincides with our neighborhood's big sale and I make out quite nicely with the profits. However, this year we were in Pittsburgh and I missed out on the event...and the cash.

So instead, I hauled our stuff to the Salvation Army. I've been tackling clutter since January and I had the boxes stacked in my garage to prove it. While I love the instant cash that you can get from a yard sale, this year a tax deduction will have to do.

It's been awhile since I've taken a tax deduction over having a yard sale, so I did a little research. Unfortunately not everything in your home is considered a tax deduction if donated. The queen sized comforter that I no longer used can be deducted, but the kids' outgrown mega block set cannot.

There are rules to follow when taking a tax deduction for your donated items. According to the IRS Publication 526, "if you give property to a qualified organization, you generally can deduct the fair market value of the property at the time of the contribution."

Clothing and certain household items can be deducted as long as they are in "good used condition or better." Household items that can be deducted if donated are furniture and furnishings, electronics, appliances, linens, and other similar items. Household items NOT included would be food, paintings, antiques, other objects of art, jewelry, gems, and collections.

(There is one exception to that rule: "You can take a deduction for a contribution of an item of clothing or a household item that is not in good used condition or better if you deduct more than $500 for it and include a qualified appraisal of it with your return.")

As described by the IRS, "fair market value is the price at which property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither having to buy or sell, and both having reasonable knowledge of all the relevant facts."

"The fair market value of used clothing and other personal items is usually far less than the price you paid for them. There are no fixed formulas or methods for finding the value of items of clothing. You should claim as the value the price that buyers of used items actually pay in used clothing stores, such as consignment or thrift shops."

Household items. "The fair market value of used household items, such as furniture, appliances, and linens, is usually much lower than the price paid when new. These items may have little or no market value because they are in a worn condition, out of style, or no longer useful. For these reasons, formulas (such as using a percentage of the cost to buy a new replacement item) are not acceptable in determining value. "

"You should support your valuation with photographs, canceled checks, receipts from your purchase of the items, or other evidence. Magazine or newspaper articles and photographs that describe the items and statements by the recipients of the items are also useful. Do not include any of this evidence with your tax return." Keep it with your tax documents.

My experience: The Salvation Army gave me a dated blank receipt for the donated goods. There is space for me to write down all of the items that are deductible. They also include a valuation guide for items donated to the Salvation Army. It is a lengthy, descriptive list of clothing and furniture items with price ranges from low value to high value, depending on the item's condition. For example, a ladies' blouse has a $2 low value up to $7.50 high value. I looked at every item that I was donating and determined what condition it was in. Most of our clothing was in fairly good condition, so I used a middle range. My deduction tally for this haul was $115.

Do you sell your household clutter or take a tax deduction? Let us know about your experience in the comments.

Remember, I am not a tax professional, please refer to the IRS Publication 526 or your tax professional for more information.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Visit a Different Playground Every Week {Summer Fun Guide}

One of my kids' favorite things to do is go to a playground to play. They will play, climb, swing, jump, and slide for hours. And if there is a sand pit, my youngest will become a filfthy mess and wonder out loud, "mommy, why don't we have a sand box." When it is time to leave, I usually need to strip her down to her undies before she gets into her car seat. At which point I say back to her, "this is why we don't have a sand box."

My girls have their favorite playground, but I like to mix things up and take them to a different one each week. Why? It prevents boredom...plain and simple. Each playground visit is a new experience with different kids to play with and different equipment to explore and I don't mind driving a few extra miles to try a new park. We pack snacks, water, and sunscreen and head out in the morning to beat the high afternoon heat.

Do you have a favorite park? Try a new this week...mix it up a little.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Live Butterfly Garden

Have you seen the Live Butterfly Garden Hatching Kit advertised on TV? My kids have and my oldest daughter was super excited when she received one for her birthday last fall.

The box contains the mesh 'garden' as seen on the box and a coupon to receive 5 caterpillars and food via mail. She waited anxiously all winter to be able to order the caterpillars for the garden. Every other week, she would rightfully whine, 'is it spring yet?"

Finally, it was time to order the caterpillars. The kit comes with a 'live creature coupon' that you redeem on Insect Lore's website for 5 caterpillars and food. After reading online, I needed to time the delivery around our vacation so we would be home for their delivery and care. It takes about 2 weeks from the time that the caterpillars are delivered to your home to when they are ready to be set free.

The cup needs to sit undisturbed (which can be tricky with kids) and away from direct sun-light. I placed the cup on our breakfast bar ledge and gave the kids strict orders to 'look, but don't touch'. The caterpillars were quite active, crawling all over their cup. That brown layer on the bottom of the cup is their food...and also quickly became their bathroom too.

Slowly, the caterpillars work their way to the top of the cup to hang.

And before your very eyes they form into chrysalids.

Once all of the caterpillars have formed into chrysalids, it is time to move them to their mesh home. I was a little concerned that I would hurt the chrysalids, especially after removing the lid and seeing that the caterpillars had eaten much of the paper that needed to be moved to the mesh.

That paper disk at the top of the cup is where the caterpillars attach themselves. It needs to be carefully removed and pinned to the mesh wall.

After several days as chrysalids, we woke up to butterflies emerging.

They fluttered around and around.

To feed the butterflies, we placed some bee balm flowers from my garden on the floor of the mesh garden and sprinkled sugar water on the petals for the butterflies to drink.

When all five of the butteflies had emerged we took them outside to set them free in our garden. I would have kept them for a few more days, but we were going out of town and I didn't want to come home to dead butterflies.

The Butterfly Garden was a lot of fun for my whole family. The kids enjoyed waking up every morning to see what had changed over-night. The Live Butterfly Garden Hatching Kit is around $14 on Amazon and is eligible for the Super Saver Shipping. You can also buy it on the Insect Lore website for $19.99. The caterpillars are free with the coupon code that comes in the box, but there is $5 shipping fee. But for $20 - $25 you have a fun spring/summer gift or activity for the kids.

Have you ever raised butterflies? Did your family enjoy the process? Let us know in the comment.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag {Summer Fun Guide}

We are a family of ice cream connoisseurs...that's a nice way of saying that we are addicts. It is one of our favorite ways to beat this incredible heat wave that is passing over the US.

While we enjoy an occasional trip to the ice cream shop, that can get expensive. I have no problem buying a carton of good ice cream at the grocery store, but Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag is a fun (and frugal) treat for the kids. You probably have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. I only needed to buy some whole milk, since we don't normally drink it and the pint cost me $1.

Homemade Ice Cream in a Bag

makes 2-3 servings


  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk or half & half
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla - This is where you can experiment with what you have on hand. Try replacing the 1 tsp vanilla with 1 tsp coconut extract. My daughter wanted orange, so I used 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange.
  • ice
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt or any coarse grain salt.
  • quart sized Ziploc bag
  • gallon sized Ziploc bag
  • your favorite ice cream toppings


1. Pour the milk, sugar, and flavoring into the quart sized Ziploc bag. I would only use the Ziploc type bag to prevent leaking (see picture).

2. Place the ice, salt, and the quart bag inside the gallon Ziploc bag. Zip tight.

3. Grab some gloves and SHAKE!

4. SHAKE for 5 - 10 minutes and the ice cream will start to harden.

My oldest daughter thought she would try to shake without didn't last long.

5. Add your favorite toppings and Enjoy!

The day was so hot that the ice cream started melting pretty quickly and the kids were in no mood to wait to eat it, so no time to set up a good picture.

Do you make your own ice cream? What are your favorite toppings?

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Monday, July 2, 2012

17 Yummy Recipes for Your July 4th Bash

What are your plans for July 4th? Are you hosting a gathering or taking a dish elsewhere?

My parents and grandmother always host a big bash, so I'll be taking a dish. One thing is for sure, by 7 pm on July 4th, I'll be crying, "I'm stuffed. I can hardly move."

Here are some ideas for a yummy holiday:

The Main Course

Red Pepper & Feta Turkey Burgers

Apple and Blue Cheese Feta Burgers

Grilled Pineapple & Teriyaki Turkey Burgers

How to Grill Chicken Breast and Not Dry It Out Like the Sahara

Grilled Chili Lime Shrimp

Grilled Garlic Lemon Shrimp

Grilled Salmon with Peach Mango Salsa

Grilled Sausages with Peppers and Onions Hobo Pack

Super Side Dishes

Purple Cabbage & Broccoli Slaw

Black Bean, Tomato & Feta Salad

Watermelon & Feta Salad

Grilled Corn on the Cob

Grilled Garlic Rosemary Red Potatoes

Delicious Desserts

Grilled Peaches with Homemade Whipped Cream

Grilled Banana Splits

Chocolate Whoopie Pies

Homemade Brownies with Homemade Whipped Cream

What's on your menu for July 4th? Are you hosting or taking a dish elsewhere? Let us know in the comments.

Have a safe and Happy July 4th!

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